Review! To Stay Alive by Skila Brown

stayaliveTo Stay Alive: Mary Ann Graves and the Tragic Journey of the Donner Party

By Skila Brown

304 pages – ages 12+

Will be published by Candlewick on October 11, 2016

Synopsis- It was 1846, and Mary Ann Graves was 19 when her father and her entire family decided to move west. Her 21-year-old sister (and her husband) were coming as well. They had to go from Illinois all the way to California. They would see most of the country as they traveled through the land. They met up with several other families when they were traveling, including the Reed family, and the Donner family. All they need to do is make it through the infamous Rocky Mountains before it snows…

What I Thought- This was a slightly disturbing book. It is a historical fiction of the infamous Donner Party, and for the most part it was telling the story of their journey westward. The novel-in-verse format is interesting, and makes it a rather fast read. It was odd reading the part where they started eating the dead flesh (which honestly, didn’t bother me – some consider it a valid survival technique (when there is nothing else, of course)) – it was the part where they started killing the weaker travelers for food that grossed me out a little, but it is part of history and needs to be told. That aside, the book was very good, and I enjoyed reading about the journey westward. Ms. Brown’s poems stir an emotional impact with the reader, while still telling of the lives of the families going west. I liked that she included an Epilogue, Author’s Note, and a list of the members of the Donner Party, with facts as to what happened afterward, during, and other such things. All-in-all, a very compelling read with solid writing and having it in verse makes the story even more surreal. I’d just recommend for a more mature kid-reader.

I give this book five out of five bookworms.fivebooks

Categories: Age 12+

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21 replies

  1. You got this one plenty early, didn’t you? 🙂 I love survival stories, and I love history. This one makes me cringe a little, though, for the same reasons you mention. I’d still be up for the read if it wasn’t in verse. But ,personally, I’ve just never cared for stories told that way. Very well-written review, Erik.

  2. This is one of those stories where I’ve always been curious to learn more, but a little afraid at the same time. The verse novel is an interesting choice of format for this subject. Thanks for the heads up. Will make a note of this book.

  3. I can see why this would be a bit disturbing! I think I would too. But I’ve been studying verse novels so I’ll add it to my list. Thanks!

  4. Wow that’s a gritty read but great it’s in verse.

  5. I heard the Donner party tasted like chicken.

  6. Erik,,
    Such a wise and realistic review of a book that engages a challenging subject. It’s another case of fitting the right book to the right reader, and your review is a mindful way to do that.
    This looks like one I might want to feature on our new group blog,

    Thanks, as always.

  7. Yeow! That is a tough subject to bring to kids. Historical fiction aside, is there a compelling reason to tell this story? Reality sure can be stranger than fiction. I don’t’ really understand how a novel in verse would work for this subject. (I’d have to read it, but will pass.)

    Erik, your review is good and well thought out. Why is it everything tastes like chicken?

  8. SKila Brown! I’ve been looking for this author since Caminar! And, I haven’t found her on social media to connect and let her know how much I love her work and hope to see more and more of it. Perhaps she puts her energy into writing!
    As to ‘To Stay Alive’ I appreciate the vehicle verse can be for difficult subjects. I am looking forward to reading this book. Thanks for the review.


  1. To Stay Alive by Skila Brown

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